Wednesday, October 1, 2008 ESPNsoccernet: October 2, 12:16 PM UK
Support acts upstage Anfield star Richard Jolly
Liverpool 3-1 PSV Eindhoven
What Fernando Torres wants, it seems, Fernando Torres gets. Liverpool's No. 9 lavished praise on Dirk Kuyt and Robbie Keane after they enabled him to score the decisive goals in the Merseyside derby. Now the positive reviews can be directed elsewhere. Torres may not have relinquished his star billing, but this was a night where his prompters got their own lines right.
The favours were returned in kind by the Spaniard as Keane, engulfing Anfield in collective relief, finally opened his Liverpool account and Kuyt continued his habit of scoring in Europe, if not England. Normally upstaged by Torres, this was their match as the alternative attackers ensured victory before half-time and before Steven Gerrard completed a century of goals in superlative fashion.
Yet before today, Keane and Kuyt bore comparison with a predecessor in the Liverpool forward line, Emile Heskey: admired for their workload yet strangely incapable of performing the very task most associated with attackers. Keane's drought may have been temporary - and a tally of 23 goals last season suggests so - but that did not lessen the anxiety.
Aided by a supine PSV Eindhoven team, the £30 million duo put domestic droughts behind them. Life as highly remunerated workhorses earns them Torres' gratitude, but this was a game for validation and vindication, for Kuyt, Keane and Rafa Benitez alike.
During the Spaniard's reign, the debates have been as much about non-scoring marksman as prolific forwards. Torres struck 33 times last season, yet memories of the other Fernando, Morientes, remain. By beginning his Anfield career with a dearth of goals, Keane echoed Peter Crouch in unwanted fashion. Kuyt has been reclassified from goal machine to selfless worker, reinvented as the Premier League's most industrious right winger.
He scored within four minutes after Gerrard's corner was volleyed by Torres. Andreas Isaksson sprawled, extending a leg to parry, but Kuyt drilled the rebound in. The Swede got a second touch, but not enough to prevent his unfortunate habit of conceding goals in England from continuing. On his previous outing, he was beaten eight times for Manchester City at Middlesbrough. This, at least, was less painful.
Yet if a Kuyt goal can be predictable, this was. It was his 10th goal in 16 European games, a statistic that is more remarkable as the Dutchman could complete a year without a Premier League strike. The last, in November 2007, came in a team featuring Harry Kewell and against a side managed by Sam Allardyce. Much has changed though, then as now, Newcastle United were in crisis.
The Champions League is the oft-cited reason to join clubs such as Liverpool. If an ambition was realised by Keane, then it was done so in style as he swept in Torres' terrific cross. Chants of "Keano" were aired at Anfield, but it is unlikely too many in North London joined in. Tottenham's quest to play in the Europe's premier club competition is lengthy and, thus far, unsuccessful, but their finest strike duo in years can be grateful for two of its poorer defences; first Dimitar Berbatov opened his Manchester United account, then, 24 hours later, Keane did likewise for Liverpool. One in 11 games isn't the Irishman's normal ratio, but it's a start.
"Everyone was talking about this so it was really important for him and very important for us too," said Benitez. "Maybe now we will talk about his first goal in the Premier League. The people know when they see a good player. Robbie has been a very good player in the Premier League and they knew it was just a matter of time."
Gerrard, who frequently outscores Liverpool's strikers, managed his 100th for the club by rifling in from 30 yards after a free kick was touched to him. "One hundred goals always is a very good figure, but especially for a midfielder," added his manager. "Always I say he is one of the best midfielders."
Huub Stevens may have had his goal in mind when he admitted: "There was a difference in quality." PSV's negative gameplan was rendered redundant by Liverpool's first attack, yet Stevens persisted with it for an hour. Only Nordin Amrabat threatened. Initially isolated as the lone striker, the 21-year-old provided reminders of Craig Bellamy with his pace and feistiness. That apart, PSV barely deserved the consolation goal the substitute Danny Koevermans gave them.
There was no comeback. European nights at Anfield are associated with high drama but, despite the two landmark goals for Keane and Gerrard, this was a comparatively quiet occasion. But when even Alvaro Arbeloa is caught offside, it is an indication of how dominant Liverpool were.
The comfort of the win was enough to please the crowd, the landmark goals for Keane and Gerrard, in Benitez's 250th game in charge, enough to satisfy the statisticians. This was a night when Liverpool won the numbers game.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dirk Kuyt - He made it an easy evening for Liverpool, but was unrelenting in his own efforts. He prospered against Dutch defences with Feyenoord and seems to retain his fondness for them.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Two games gone and a place in the last 16 beckons already. Their season is shaping up nicely but Manchester City should present a sterner examination of their credentials on Sunday.
PSV VERDICT: This is a shadow of the side that reached the semi-finals in 2005. PSV have been arguably Europe's most successful selling side, but the annual departures seem to have taken their toll. Their best hope now may be third place in the group and a place in the UEFA Cup.